One of the reasons I write is to find out what I’m thinking, what I mean to say, and then to be able to hold onto it. When I talk, I often repeat myself with such slight variations that it must be maddening to a listener. I tend to want to summarize. I want to get it right and then lock it in. And if I keep coming back to a problem, circling around it from different angles, I can get closer and closer. Revision is my favorite part of writing–getting the words just right.
In The Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O’Connor, she writes to her agent, “…I have to write to discover what I am doing. Like the old lady, I don’t know so well what I think until I see what I say; then I have to say it over again.” She was 23 years old.
One of the reasons I read is that I love finding those moments that are expressed so exactly right in someone else’s story. Yes, I think, that’s the way it is. I underline them or copy them in a notebook, always trying to hold on to them.
“must be maddening to a listener…”
I read for that reason, too. I also have many notebooks going back seventeen years, in which I have copied down sentences and paragraphs from books that I have loved and don’t want to forget. They also seem to remain true over the years.
Interesting–” . . . until I see what I say.”
Writing to me is very visual. I can think about a character, or a story, or a setting, forever. But until I see the words on the page–the form they create, the way the words string together, the picture the words paint–there is no story at all.
What a great comment. This is true and I need to remember it. Apparently Frank Conroy was big on this. “He used to say that in his own writing he’d read and re-read what he’d written the day before until he knew what to do next.”
Oh, yes, I do this too … re-read what I’ve written until my character makes the next move, speaks the next line. And when that doesn’t happen, I know I’ve forced something and need to revise.
“… getting the words just right.” YES! I often find myself frustrated, knowing the perfect word, the perfect phrase is just there … out of reach … on the tip of my fingers, as it were. It’s such a joy when the mind finally clears and you snatch it for your own.
Rereading what I’ve written the day before to know what comes next is becoming more and more the way I write. Apparently Frank Conroy was on to something!
And I love those moments when I finally arrive at the right word. It’s such a process–usually a piling on and then a scraping away. Or I’ll think I have it, and then the next day, no that’s not right. Yes, such a peaceful feeling when I get it right.